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Commentaries and editorials

Umatilla Tribes File Notice
of Intent to Sue DOE

by Shannon Dininny, Associated Press
Seattle Post-Intelligencer - October 6, 2004

YAKIMA, Wash. -- The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation have filed notice of intent to sue the U.S. Department of Energy, demanding the agency assess the harm that 40 years of plutonium production caused to natural resources at the Hanford nuclear site.

In filing the notice, the tribes join the states of Washington and Oregon in seeking to have natural resource injuries assessed at Hanford. In July, the two states sought a court-ordered assessment of environmental harm at Hanford if the federal government does not conduct one.

The tribe is not seeking monetary damages, said Armand Minthorn, a member of the tribe's board of trustees.

"Only once we know the extent of the damage to natural resources, can we develop plans to restore those resources," Minthorn said in a news release Tuesday.

The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla is comprised of the Umatilla, Cayuse and Walla Walla tribes, which say they retained the right to use natural resources The Energy Department had not yet reviewed the notice of intent to sue Wednesday and could not comment, spokeswoman Colleen French said.

The Yakama Nation filed suit against the Energy Department in 2002, seeking restoration of Hanford natural resources that may have been damaged by plutonium production for the nation's nuclear weapons arsenal.

The Yakama Nation alleged that contamination of the Columbia River with radioactive waste and other hazardous substances has contributed to declining Northwest salmon populations in the past 50 years.

The Energy Department has said it is too soon to assess damage to the environment.

A court ordered the Yakama Nation and the Justice Department, which represents the Energy Department, into mediation talks earlier this year. Washington, Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho had asked to be allowed to join the mediation talks, but the Energy Department declined.

Hanford, located near Richland in south-central Washington, was created as part of the Manhattan Project in World War II to make plutonium for nuclear weapons. The 586-square-mile site now contains the nation's largest collection of nuclear waste.

Cleanup costs are projected at between $50 billion and $60 billion, with cleanup to be completed by 2035.

Related Sites:
Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla

Shannon Dininny, Associated Press
Umatilla Tribes File Notice of Intent to Sue DOE
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 6, 2004

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